Saturday, January 18, 2014

The Graveyard by Marek Hlasko (Melville House 1956)

He walked out. Was that really water dripping—or was it Bear's little boy still talking and staring with his black eyes at the murky grayness of the wall? He was in the street when Bear caught up with him. They walked side by side in silence, breathing heavily.

"Listen," Bear stammered. He gripped Franciszek's arm and looked in his eyes, stumbling all the while. "It isn't the way you think it is. Listen, you've got to understand. I have a son . . ."

"Franek," Franciszek said. "In memory of those moments."

"Those moments, those moments," Bear stammered. "What are they next to life? Next to the fear you've got to live with, constantly, without interruption, from morning till night? Can we bask in the days of glory when we live in a time of pestilence? They'll finish us off, you, me, Jerzy. Our time is over; and the others, the ones on top, they know it. They commit crimes when they have to, but in spite of everything they're laying the foundations for faith in man; they believe in you, in me, in Jerzy, and that's why they'll finish us off when the times comes. They believe that we're somehow decent, and that someday we'll wake up, and let out a wild shout: no! And maybe this shout will be taken up by a few others. It's neither you nor I that's at stake, but something beside which we mean nothing at all. Ah, Franciszek, we wanted to take the road to life, and we've come to a graveyard; we set out for a promised land, and all we see is a desert; we talked about justice, and all we know is terror and despair. Once I lived on the fourth floor, and all day long I did nothing but count people's footsteps on the staircase—were they coming for me or not? Someday they would come, I thought. History has no use for witnesses. The next generation will rush headlong into whatever is expected of it. It will regard each of the crimes now being committed as sacred, as necessary. And what about us? You? Me? We've done our part, and now we must try to survive, just survive as long as possible. Do you want to be the righteous man of Gomorrah? What do you want? Testimonials? Give it up. Can't you die like a strong animal, alone and in silence? You've nothing left, no teeth to bite with, and nothing to shoot with. Go away, and if you don't understand, at least leave the rest of us alone. After all, we're entitled to something in return for our days of glory: at least we have the right to be forgotten."

"Have you seen Jerzy since those days?" Franciszek asked.

"No, and I don't want to see him."

Franciszek slackened his pace. "You certainly don't think," he said, "that he would ever be capable of saying the kind of thing you've just said. Do you?"

They were silent for a while.

"No," Bear said. "Jerzy? No, Jerzy will never say such things, I know. I often think of him; he was the purest of all, better than either of us. Maybe that's what has saved him."

They stopped.

"Farewell, Bear," Franciszek said.

"Goodbye, Skinny," Bear said.

Neither of them saw the other's face: they were far from any street lamp, standing in darkness and rain. After a moment's hesitation, each of them extended a hand. Their hands did not meet, but they pretended not to notice.

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